2019 Nissan Altima

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Nissan has not given up on cars — sedans in particular — as several other major automakers have done in favor of crossover SUVs. Sedan sales have slipped from 50 to 30 percent of the U.S. market in recent years and Nissan figures 30 percent is the bottom. That implies there's no where to go but up and Nissan wants to be there for the comeback.

Nissan officials point out that studies show the Gen Z generation favors sedans 44 percent to 29 percent over both two- and three-row crossover SUVs, and that the slightly older Gen Y buyers favor sedans over two-row crossovers 30 to 27 percent. We wonder if a couple of the rival major automakers had those statistics in hand when they emasculated their sedan fleets.

The all-new sixth-generation 2019 Altima mid-sized sedan is example number one that Nissan intends to remain relevant in the segment. Not only is it the best Altima in the car's quarter-century history, it is one of the best family sedans on the road, showing vast improvements in several areas including performance, ride quality, standard amenities, and interior space. Nissan says it's the most extensive platform change in two decades. The Altima is endowed with two new engines, and for the first time it will be available with all-wheel drive. That's a feature the Accord and Camry don't offer.

Standard on the 2019 Altima is a new 2.5-liter DOHC inline 4-cylinder direct injection engine rated at 188 horsepower (versus the previous 2.5-liter's 179 hp) and 180 lb-ft of torque (versus the previous 177 lb-ft). More than just the gains in horsepower and torque, the new engine is more refined, quieter and offers improved fuel economy.

Replacing the previous-generation 3.5-liter V-6 engine is what Nissan says is the world's first production-ready variable compression turbo inline 4-cylinder, called the VC-Turbo. It delivers near V-6-level performance with 4-cylinder fuel economy. The engine delivers 248 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque on premium fuel. It can burn regular, but with a slight reduction in horsepower. The new engine is available on Altima SR and Platinum front-wheel drive grades.

We drove the Platinum trim level for most of our 150-mile drive and found the engine strong and satisfying on winding roads around Santa Barbara. We passed a couple of slow-moving vans in short passing zones without drama. There was ample power throughout the rev range as the Altima turbo's engine note emitted a satisfying growl. We believe you won't miss the outgoing V-6 engine, and not only will you enjoy better performance, but improved gas mileage estimated at 25 mpg city and 32 highway.

Yes, the $35,675 pricetag might seem a bit much for a mid-sized family sedan, but the top Platinum trim level is as close to true luxury as you are likely to get without buying a car with a Lexus, Mercedes or Cadillac nameplate attached. It's pleasingly quiet at speed and the interior is well appointed with leather seats and attractive faux wood trim — and with top-notch fit and finish. And the seats — my rear end thanks you — the front buckets are as good as it gets regardless of price in what Nissan calls Zero Gravity seats.

Most people will purchase the 2.5-liter inline four and from a very short stint in a sporty SR trim level (starting at $25,995) we found the new engine energetic and receptive to our right-foot inputs. This engine stacks up well against the competition. Although I am not a fan of the continuously variable transmission, in the new Altima it works as well as any I've driven. It will be a non-issue for the average driver.

The SR trim is the sportiest and the one that Nissan expects to be the best seller. And to really build a head-turner at a good price add the hot-looking 19-inch wheels.

As icing on this enticing cake, the 2.5-liter is expected to return 28 mpg city and 39 highway on regular gas. Note that the 2.-5-liter can be paired with all-wheel drive in any trim level at a cost of $1,350. Good news for snow belt customers.

Nissan has included an amazing range of content in all trim levels making the starting price of $24,645 including destination charge seem a bargain when compared to the competition.

Every 2019 Altima comes equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, standard Bluetooth hands-free phone system, streaming audio via Bluetooth, hands-free text messaging assistant, and Siri Eyes Free voice recognition. Available NissanConnect Services powered by SiriusXM provides compatible smartphone and smartwatch access to features such as remote engine start/stop, remote door lock/unlock, valet alert, and more. Additionally, certain remote features are accessible through the NissanConnect Services, Amazon Alexa Skill and Google Assistant Action.

The range of safety and convenience features includes standard Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), Intelligent Forward Collision Warning (I-FCW) and Intelligent Driver Alertness (I-DA).

While crossover SUVs are currently dominating the market, it's entries such as the new Altima that are likely to start the sedan segment growing again.

— Jim Meachen